On Geomantic Holy Days, Redux

Lately I’ve gotten it into my head to try my hand at coming up with some sort of devotional practice with geomancy again, and it’s been stuck there for several days now. This post, however, is having a hard time coming out in a way I like, so it’ll be a bit more of a ramble than usual, but maybe we can end up somewhere neat that we didn’t expect. Also I’m writing it as a way to relieve a headache so I can focus on doing these 2019 New Year readings (which you should totally get one while the offer’s good, if you haven’t yet!).

I mentioned a while back in my post on the notion of geomantic holy days to honor and recognize the mythological and spiritual founders of the art, the four Progenitors Daniel, Enoch, Hermes Trismegistus, and Adam, with the archangel Gabriel being their supernatural teacher and initiator into the art. Whenever we find an origin story for geomancy, whether in European or Arabic texts, we see the same deal: the angel Gabriel arrives to instruct the prophet in question in the art of geomancy. If we were to center a devotional practice around Abrahamic figures that geomancy centers on, we could easily use the feast days associated with them to come up with five major holy days:

  • Feast of Gabriel the Archangel: March 24
  • Feast of Daniel the Blessed Prophet: July 21
  • Feast of Enoch the Great Scribe: July 30
  • Feast of Hermes the Thrice Great: April 4 (entirely an innovation on my part, see the above post as to why)
  • Feast of Adam and Eve: December 24

But why stop there? We can expand this basic set of feast days into a slightly fuller set:

  • Feast of Michael the Archangel and All Angels: September 29
  • Feast of Uriel the Archangel: June 21
  • Feast of Raphael the Archangel: December 22
  • Feast of the Guardian Angel: October 2
  • Feast of Saint Agabus: February 13
  • Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi: October 4
  • Feast of Samuel the Prophet: August 20
  • All Saints’ Day: November 1
  • All Souls’ Day: November 2

Recognizing the feasts of the other three archangels makes a bit of sense to me; after all, with geomancy being heavily influenced by the number four (four elements, four Mothers, four Daughters, four Nieces, four Court figures, etc.), why not recognize the four archangels? Though we generally consider the archangel Michael to be prince of the bodiless hosts, Gabriel takes a more central importance to geomancy because he’s the one who taught the Progenitors the art. However, in my reckoning, the four Progenitors can each be associated with one of the four elements (Daniel with Fire, Enoch with Air, Hermes Trismegistus with Water, Adam with Earth), so we can also consider them each linked to one of the four archangels (Daniel with Michael, Enoch with Raphael, Hermes Trismegistus with Gabriel, Adam with Uriel). This makes a bit of mythological sense, too, considering Michael’s role in the biblical Book of Daniel and Uriel’s connection with the Garden of Eden and Adam. And, beyond that, why not recognize one’s own guardian angel as well? It’s under the tutelage, protection, and guidance of our individual guardian angels that we can all each of us learn to prosper, grow, and develop ourselves, so why not?

The inclusion of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day is, of course, a nod to our ancestors, both familial and spiritual, when it comes to any spiritual practice. This is definitely influenced by my other ancestor work, but why not recognize our ancestors in any practice? After all, if it weren’t for our ancestors, we literally could not live; their blood flows in our veins, their breath fills our lungs, and their bones provide the foundation for us to stand upon. That goes for our family as it does all the geomancers and occultists and other learned sages of the past, for such esteemed names like Christopher Cattan, Robert Fludd, Hugh of Santalla, Abu ‘Abd Allah Muhammad ibn ‘Uthman al-Zanati, and so forth; it’s because of them, their teachings, and their writings that we have geomancy passed down unto us today.

The other feast days I listed also make a bit of sense, or at least enough to not be inappropriate. Saint Agabus is an obscure one, admittedly, but he’s given the patronage over prophets and, by extension, diviners and seers and fortune-tellers in general. St. Francis of Assisi (yes, THAT St. Francis!) is one of the holiest and most devout exemplars of true faith in God that Christianity has probably ever produced, and his connections with the environment and stewardship of the world as a whole should be inspiration for us all. Plus, there’s an ATR connection there, too; St. Francis of Assisi is the usual syncretization with the Yoruba diviner-god Orunmilá, the orisha of wisdom and knowledge and divination, and the central deity in the Ifá cult, and Ifá is distantly related to geomancy (though I neither like nor want to conflate the two). I also threw in the feast of the Prophet Samuel into the list because he was the last of the biblical Judges and the one who anointed Saul the first King of Israel and Judah, not least because he’s my own namesake but because of his role in establishing the virtues of wisdom, priesthood, prophethood, and rulership—and gives an illustrative example to the moral and just uses of divination by means of the episode involving the Witch of Endor.

You’ll note that I’m basically using the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar of saints for all these feasts. I mean, that’s fair; it’s a straightforward system that’s been established for hundreds of years, the saints are almost universally known in Western culture and religion, and the use of the usual Gregorian calendar is easy. I fully recognize that not all geomancers are Christian (I mean, I’m not), but you can’t really ignore the importance Christianity (or Islam) in Western occulture generally, nor geomancy specifically. The current of faith, devotion, and power with the saints, and the mythological backing they provide to divination, is already there; why not tap into it, especially when it’s so easy to do so?

Well, let’s back up. Let’s say we don’t necessarily want to adopt a Catholic approach that uses the feast days as they are. What could we do instead? In the post about those geomantic holy days, I mentioned the possibility of coming up with a geomantic Wheel of the Year that’s based on the Sun’s ingresses and midpoints in the signs of the Zodiac at the usual places, namely the solstices and equinoxes. Why not go to something like that? Sure, except how do you map the Progenitors to those days?

Although the modern Catholic practice is to celebrate all the angels and archangels on the same day—Michaelmas, the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel and All Angels, on September 29—the four big archangels had their own feast days scattered across the year, roughly in line with the solstices and equinoxes: Gabriel’s feast day occurs roughly at the spring equinox, Uriel at the summer solstice, Michael at the autumn equinox, and Raphael at the winter solstice. (Yes, I write from a perspective in the northern hemisphere, but hear me out.) This arrangement makes sense at first blush, but that’s an odd order, indeed, isn’t it? The spring equinox is when the Sun enters Aries, a Fire sign, so the normal occultist would expect Michael to be honored then instead of Gabriel; likewise, for summer, it’d be Cancer and Water, so Gabriel instead of Uriel; for autumn, Libra and Air, so Raphael instead of Michael; and for winter, Capricorn and Earth, so Uriel instead of Raphael. A bit of a conflict, no?

Note the traditional order of the archangels being honored in this system, starting from the autumn equinox: Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, and Uriel. Their corresponding elements are Fire, Air, Water, and Earth—the elemental order that’s used in geomancy. This contrasts with using a zodiacal order—Raphael, Uriel, Michael, and Gabriel, so Air, Earth, Fire, and Water—which isn’t used in geomancy. It also contrasts with Cornelius Agrippa’s reckoning in his Scale of Four (book II, chapter 7), where Michael is given to summer, Uriel to autumn, Gabriel to winter, and Raphael to spring—exactly the reverse of the usual elemental order. Since geomancy isn’t strictly an astrological art and since the strictly angelic order matches up best with the geomantic order, it could be argued well that this system would work best for a devotional geomantic calendar. This means we could start off organizing a geomantic devotional calendar by using the solstices and equinoxes for ascribing them to the four archangels:

  • Feast of Gabriel the Archangel: March 21 (spring equinox)
  • Feast of Uriel the Archangel: June 21 (summer solstice)
  • Feast of Michael the Archangel: September 21 (autumnal equinox)
  • Feast of Raphael the Archangel: December 21 (winter solstice)

(Yes, dates are approximate and can vary from year to year by a day or two in either direction. Bear with me.)

As noted above, just as there are four archangels, there are four Progenitors in this system I’m coming up with, and each of those Progenitors corresponds to one of the four elements, just as the four archangels do. While we could double up the feast days and celebrate the feasts of the Progenitors along with their corresponding archangels, I don’t like that method; for one, I try to avoid multiple simultaneous celebrations on the same day, and because Gabriel would need to be honored alongside each and every Progenitor (as he was the one who taught geomancy to them all), that means we’d really be celebrating Gabriel on each of the solstices and equinoxes, either alone (spring equinox) or along with another archangel (solstices and autumn equinox). So that’s a really messy and convoluted system.

What about using the cross-quarter days? These are the four midpoint days between the solstices and equinoxes, and could be ideal. How would we arrange the four Progenitors across these? There are several options that come to mind:

  • Angel-based: give the cross-quarter day to the Progenitor that matches the element of the angel that immediately precedes it. Thus, if the spring equinox is given to Gabriel (Water), then the cross-quarter day that follows it (Beltane) should be given to the Progenitor of Water, Hermes Trismegistus.
  • Season-middle: give the cross-quarter day to the Progenitor that matches the element of the season it falls in, reckoning seasons to start at the solstices and equinoxes. Thus, if spring is reckoned to start at the spring equinox and we use Agrippa’s association of Spring with Air, then the season cross-quarter day (Beltane) should be given to the Progenitor of Air, Enoch.
  • Season-start: give the cross-quarter day to the Progenitor that matches the element of the season it starts, reckoning seasons to start at the cross-quarter days and not at the solstices and equinoxes (as is traditional in some parts of Europe). Thus, if summer is reckoned to start at the midpoint between the spring equinox and summer solstice, and summer is associated with Fire, then this cross-quarter day (Beltane) should be given to the Progenitor of Fire, Daniel.
  • Zodiac-based: give the cross-quarter day to the Progenitor that matches the element of the zodiac sign it falls in. Thus, the cross-quarter day between the spring equinox and summer solstice falls in the middle of Taurus, an Earth sign, so this day should be given to the Progenitor of Earth, Adam.
  • Chronological: give the cross-quarter day to the Progenitor in the chronological order they appear in the biblical and mythological record. Reckoning the year to start at the spring equinox, this would mean the four Progenitors would be celebrated in the order of Adam (the first man), Enoch (ancestor of Noah), Hermes Trismegistus (though not given a strong temporal presence, he’s sometimes considered a contemporary of Moses or of otherwise Egyptian time periods), and Daniel (living in the Babylonian Exile period).
Approximate
Solar Date
Cross Quarter
Day
Angel Season
Middle
Season
Start
Zodiac Chronological
May 6 Beltane Hermes Enoch Daniel Adam Adam
August 6 Beltane Adam Daniel Adam Daniel Enoch
November 5 Lammas Daniel Adam Hermes Hermes Hermes
February 3 Samhain Enoch Hermes Enoch Enoch Daniel

For the same reasons that I give the four archangels to the four quarter days in the order they’ve already got, I think the angel-based method makes the most sense. Understanding the angelic day to “come first”, just as Gabriel came first with the knowledge of geomancy to bring it to the Progenitors, the angel-based method where the Progenitors follow their corresponding elemental archangel makes the most sense to me—if we were to link the Progenitors strongly to the archangels based on elemental correspondence alone. However, because the other three angels don’t really have as much a presence in the geomantic mythos as Gabriel does, and because Gabriel is most important to them all, this connection is kinda weak.

Honestly, because of that reason, I’m most inclined to go with the chronological ordering, which also makes good sense: if we consider Gabriel to have come down and instructed the four Progenitors in the art of geomancy in successive revelation, and if we consider the spring equinox to be both the feast of Gabriel and the start of a new solar year (which is definitely a thing!), then it also makes sense to celebrate the four Progenitors in the order in which Gabriel taught them. This way, each year can be considered a retelling of a revelation of geomancy, and honoring the four Progenitors in turn would instill that same sense of revelation and continual, continuous discovery and learning in the art. Since I would consider the non-Gabriel archangel feasts to be of secondary importance, we would only need to be concerned with five primary feasts for a geomantic devotional practice on approximately the following Gregorian dates (with specific solar events that would mark them properly from year to year):

  • Feast of Gabriel the Holy Archangel, Teacher of the Progenitors: first sunrise after Sun ingress Aries Aquarius (approx. March 21)
  • Feast of Adam the First Man, Progenitor of Earth: first sunrise after Sun midpoint Taurus (approx. May 6)
  • Feast of Enoch the Great Scribe, Progenitor of Air: first sunrise after Sun midpoint Leo (approx. August 6)
  • Feast of Hermes the Thrice Great, Progenitor of Water: first sunrise after Sun midpoint Scorpio (approx. November 5)
  • Feast of Daniel the Blessed Prophet, Progenitor of Fire: first sunrise after Sun midpoint Aquarius (approx. February 3)

Why mark the feasts by the first sunrise after the specific solar event? Personally, I like to mark such holidays and special days by being the “first full day” with the full event, because for me in my practice, I mark days for spiritual practice starting from sunrise. So, if the Sun makes its ingress into Aries at 7pm my time, then that say still started when the Sun was still in the previous sign, so it makes more sense to me to celebrate the first full day with the Sun being in Aries on the first sunrise after that. If that solar event happened at the very moment of sunrise, all the better; it would count for my purposes.

Anyhow, now we have a cycle that’s tied less to Catholicism or purely zodiacal concerns, and one that’s grounded in the mythos of geomancy while still being tied to the natural cycles of seasons. A geomantic new year is celebrated at the spring equinox, which is specifically dedicated to the archangel Gabriel, the angelic patron of geomancy and geomancers and who teaches and reveals the art to all its students. The year progresses in turn being marked by the feasts for the four Progenitors, each of whom were taught by Gabriel to pass the art of geomancy down into the world. Celebrating the new year with the spring equinox dedicated to Gabriel also has a fun coincidental Islamic connection; in some sects of Islam, this date is reckoned to be the solar calendar equivalent (Persian Nowruz, based upon the earlier and still-practiced Zoroastrian New Year festival) to when the angel Gabriel appeared to the Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ to give him the first revelation that started off the Qur’an (though that’s usually reckoned to take place during Laylat al-Qadr during Ramadan in the Islamic lunar calendar).

I actually feel pretty comfortable with this novel arrangement. Though there are five main feasts that would be celebrated, which would be an odd number for geomancy, it’s really more like four feasts of the Progenitors plus a special feast that they all center around. They could be balanced by adding in the other three feasts of the archangels to yield a constant and balanced eight feasts per year, sure, peppered with the other feasts throughout the year for the other saints and days taken from Catholic (or Orthodox) tradition. For me, though, it suffices to have these primary five (really, four plus one) feasts to act as holy days for a devotional geomantic practice. I can easily envision having lead-up days, such as one to four days of fasting immediately prior to the feasts of the Progenitors or four to sixteen days of fasting, studying, and praying leading up to the feast of Gabriel at the spring equinox, too, which would also work to deepen and focus devotional practices. Heck, we could give these fancy terms, too, like “Days of Cultivation” for the period leading up to the feast of Gabriel.

So, let’s give an example. For this year 2019 CE, the spring equinox happens at 5:58 PM Eastern US time on Wednesday, March 20. This means that we’d get the following dates to celebrate the above feasts:

  • Days of Cultivation: March 5 (starting at sunrise) through March 20, 2019 (ending at sunrise the following day)
  • Feast of Gabriel the Holy Archangel, Teacher of the Progenitors: March 21, 2019 (starting at sunrise)
  • Feast of Adam the First Man, Progenitor of Attainment: May 6, 2019 (starting at sunrise)
  • Feast of Enoch the Great Scribe, Progenitor of Dedication: August 8, 2019 (starting at sunrise)
  • Feast of Hermes the Thrice Great, Progenitor of Wisdom: November 8, 2019 (starting at sunrise)
  • Feast of Daniel the Blessed Prophet, Progenitor of Judgement: Feburary 5, 2020 (starting at sunrise)

And, just to complete the set, the feasts for the other three archangels:

  • Feast of Uriel the Holy Archangel: June 22, 2019 (starting at sunrise)
  • Feast of Michael the Holy Archangel: September 24, 2019 (starting at sunrise)
  • Feast of Raphael the Holy Archangel: December 22, 2019 (starting at sunrise)

What about one’s guardian angel? That one really doesn’t fit into any of the above systems, and that’s fine, because it’s such an intensely personal spirit to begin with. While you could give that one October 2 in general, just taking it directly from the Roman Catholic calendar, but there are two other opportunities that come to mind:

  • If you’ve already attained formal contact (e.g. K&CHGA) with your guardian angel, a la Abramelin or the Headless Rite or some other practice, use the anniversary on which you established contact as your own personal Feast of the Guardian Angel.
  • If you don’t yet have formal contact, use the day before your own birthday, being the day which you came into this world as an independent human being to celebrate your own personal Feast of the Guardian Angel. Using the day before avoids any conflicts, and allows you to honor your guardian angel as a preexisting force that gives you a foundation to live and grow.

What about a day or feast to recognize the blessed dead, whether familial or spiritual, by blood-lineage or tradition-lineage? Again, you could use All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days for this, or other culturally-appropriate Day of the Dead-type holidays; for specific ancestors, you could use their birthdays or their deathdays. Though, given the above system, I think we could do one better. Those Days of Cultivation, the days of fasting and study and prayer leading up to the geomantic new year and the Feast of Gabriel? Why not make the day before that dedicated to the dead? After all, it’s because of them that all this we have can come to pass, and by “starting” the Days of Cultivation with them, we give them their proper due and respect as we would begin our own period of intensive study and prayer and preparation for the New Year. So, that means that the Feast of the Blessed Dead would be 17 days before the Feast of Gabriel:

  • Feast of the Blessed Dead: March 4, 2019 (starting at sunrise)

The other secondary feasts I gave up above don’t really matter as much, just being plucked from the Roman Catholic calendar for the sake of it; it wouldn’t be bad to recognize them, but it’s not needed, either. I think that with these five (or four plus one) primary feasts of Gabriel and the Progenitors, and the five (or three plus one plus one) secondary feasts of the other archangels, the guardian angel, and the blessed dead, plus at least one major period of fasting and praying, we end up with a good number of events for a devotional geomantic practice.

Now to actually give it a whirl and develop devotions and practices to go along with it! After all, it is still the beginning of the year, and I do still need to make my 2019 ritual calendar. I’ll get on that soon enough…once I get some of these readings done first!

Everyone’s Got Troublesome Ancestors

This post is a little late in the making, but it’s something I definitely wanted to bring up after my earlier post on ancestor veneration 101.  If you missed out on that post or forgotten about the basics of working with your ancestors, take a look at that old post before reading this one.  Who knows, you might have some new insights along the way, even if you did read it before!

So, when you get right down to it, everyone’s got ancestors, and ancestor veneration practices are available to everyone in pretty much any way.  Every culture has some way to recognize ancestors, whether it’s nothing more than praying for the dead or culminating in a week of offering full burnt sacrifices at their tombs.  For magicians, priests, and other spiritual practitioners, working with our ancestor is a powerful practice that we can adapt to our own cultures and traditions that can yield huge blessings, often without much of the fuss or hassle that other rituals might demand of us.  After all, the dead live on through us, and we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us; working with our ancestors can often be mutually beneficial.  Before any god or goddess, our ancestors should be and often are our first go-to spirit allies for defense, prosperity, and succor, and their insights can help guide us throughout our lives in so many ways, including teaching us new methods of working or simply easing things in difficult times.

But…well, there’s always gonna be some hitch or difficulty inherent in a practice, innit?  Of course there is.  When it comes to ancestor veneration, sure, there’s always the issue of doing rituals inappropriately or offering them things taboo to them within the culture, or desecrating their memories, or any other obvious-as-hell mistake you can make, but there’s one issue that we’re all (quite literally) familiar with: that one damn relative we just don’t get along with.  Or two.  Or a dozen.  Or quite a bit more.  While we can often ignore these troublesome relatives when they’re alive, putting up with them politely once or twice a year when we have to endure their presence for holiday dinners, it’s a little more tricky when they’re dead and hanging out at your ancestor shrine.

So, what can happen when a particular ancestor is acting up and causing problems?  What sorts of problems can they make?  Honestly, the effects can be as varied as the number of ways they can make your life better; they can interfere with your personal relationships among the living, cause health issues, stymie progress in the things you’re working forwards, or other things all the way to causing actual mayhem and chaos which can result in your injury or death.  They might not do anything, of course, depending on how patient they might be with you or based on the type of relationship you have with them, but they might also just ignore your pleas for help when you actually need them to do something, or they can turn your other ancestors against you as well.  It depends on the specific ancestor’s temperament, how badly they’re offended, and how badly they want to bring your attention to the offense, but in general, when the dead are upset, it can cause any number of issues in your life.  Untended and ignored, the ancestors can become overwhelmed by wrath and anger and turn into truly fearsome beasts of spirits, potentially even becoming enemies of their own family that can cause untold trouble across multiple generations; it’s not uncommon for familial curses to be rooted in an upset ancestor that, essentially, curses their own bloodline.  It’s unfortunate, but it does happen; in such cases, the way to break the curse is to appease that ancestor or remove them entirely from the situation.  Essentially, upset ancestors can be a pain, and it really is best to deal with that pain as soon as you can so you can avoid more pain down the line.

There are lots of reasons why we might find a particular member of our ancestors to be a pain in the ass.  To rule out the most obvious case, there’s always a chance we could have done something to offend one of them.  For instance, if we promise a particular ancestor something, such as giving them a cooked meal or refraining from doing a particular thing, it’s not uncommon or unlikely that they’ll take offense to our having neglected or broken our promise, and we’d need to work it off and mend the relationship we have with them.  This goes for any kind of spirit you have a relationship, of course, which is why we can bring this up and set it aside first; as I’ve said before, try to refrain from making vows unless you absolutely need to, but even if you make a small promise of payment, a promise is a promise, and you’d best keep your word.

One of the most common issues for beginners that can result from ancestral work is the fact that, once they start to realize that you’re reaching out to them, they often flock to you like moths to a flame, especially if you have the ability to see, hear, and speak with spirits as opposed to simply making offerings and prayers in their name.  Not only can this happen with our own ancestors, but it can also happen with any passing spirit of the dead, whether or not we’re related to them by blood, tradition, or culture.  In short, some ancestors want attention, sometimes for an actual reason and other times because they miss being tended to or cared for.  This isn’t as much a problem in cultures where ancestor veneration is common, but in modern Western societies where we hardly ever tend to our family graves or make offerings to our dead, it’s increasingly a problem that we tend to forget our dead, and when they have problems, they can cause problems for us.  The simple approach here is to simply work with them as much as you’re able, not overextending yourself or draining yourself dry, but working with them as you can to make sure their needs are met.  In the process, you often learn more about your heritage and ancestry, you learn specific ways and workings from and with your ancestors that can make things easier for you and them, and you find newer ways to make your ancestor work more efficient and effective.  This can take any number of forms, but one major caution I’d recommend is that you set boundaries with your spirits; they may not be able to get everything they ask for, even if it’s just attention (especially if it’s just attention), and many of us can’t tend to our ancestry all day every day.  After all, we living have needs, too, and if the ancestors make big demands, then they need to give big assistance.  If all they want is attention, tell them (kindly, politely, yet firmly) to back off and enjoy what they have, and if they have a specific need, make sure you understand why they need it or if they just want it.  This sort of problem can develop or undevelop depending on the spirit, and sometimes it can be useful in situations where you need to pass along messages to the living in order to keep the living from coming to future harm.  Just take it easy, so long as you take your relationships seriously and take your work further as best suits you.

There can often be a problem where it’s not so much with our relationships with our ancestors as with the fact that we simply don’t know who we are.  Unless you’re big into genealogy or have good connections in your family with genealogists, we simply may not know who it is we descend from, especially in our modern age when keeping up ties with the extended family is becoming more and more difficult, as well as more and more uncommon in Western culture.  While I won’t say that everything’s fine, this won’t necessarily cause you problems; if you know even one name of your ancestors, such as a grandparent you vaguely knew who passed away, that can be your key to learning more about the rest of them.  That particular ancestor can act as a gopher and go-between that can bring you in touch with the rest of your ancestral family.  Working with this single ancestor can open up the door to working with all the rest of them and bring you into a closer relationship with those whom you might have forgotten or never knew about.  Genealogical research is only a boon in this case, and I highly recommend everyone be able to trace their ancestry back at least a few generations if not further; this may not always be the case due to records that were lost, destroyed, or suppressed, but information is information, whether you get it through historical research or spiritual investigation.

A special case of this is were someone is adopted and has no ties with or knowledge of their blood family.  In this case, hope is not lost; for all practical purposes, the ancestors of your adoptive family become your own ancestors.  Although kin is primarily determined by blood, it is also determined by name; being adopted means being made part of the family into which you were adopted, and being accepted into a family means that they accept you from now all the way back into time.  It can often be a painful shame for those who are adopted and truly have no means of connecting with their blood family, but again, just as with the other case of not knowing who your ancestors might be, you’re not bereft of ancestors just because you may not know who they are.  Family is family, either way; ancestors of the adoptive family can just as easily bridge the gap between you and your blood family just as a known blood ancestor can connect you with your unknown blood ancestors.  As above, information is information, whether you get it through historical research or spiritual investigation.

One particular issue with our ancestors that often arises is that we simply might not like them or agree with them on important philosophical, spiritual, or political views.  For instance, it’s a common issue where many outcasts in our day and age are cast out by their own family for any number of reasons, such as converting to another religion, being queer of some sort, differences in views on human decency and bigotry, or other relationship-breaking things that can cause us suffering in life when dealing with them personally as well as in death when we have to deal with them spiritually.  I can attest to some of these things myself; coming from a European American family with roots going back to the founding of the country, I have proud slaveowners and slavedrivers in my lineage, and not all my ancestors from those lines care for the fact that I’m initiated into an African diasporic religion and affiliate myself so closely to the faith of those that they subjugated and thought subhuman; other of my ancestors find the fact that I’m gay to be confusing and problematic for them, if not disrespectful to their notions of tradition and righteousness.  It’s unfortunate that they think this way, but in general, once people die and get used to being an ancestral spirit, I have noticed that their viewpoints tend to soften somewhat; they might hold on to particular strongly-held views, but they do tend to be more accepting in death than they were in life.  At points, however, these issues can be difficult to overcome; in those cases, I work with other of my ancestors who do like and accept me to either facilitate relationships and communications with them, or simply pay my respects to the ancestors who dislike me and move on.

That’s one of the core methods of working with troublesome ancestors, by the way; even if you don’t like them or if they don’t like you, it doesn’t change the fact that you’re still their kin and descendant.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m as supportive as anyone else about the whole “blood doesn’t determine family, your love determines your family” notion that’s common among the youth of today, but there’s still something to be said for blood ties that really does matter spiritually and physically that Platonic or romantic bonds alone cannot approach or approximate.  All ties to your ancestry are indelible and unalienable, and no matter what you might think of your ancestry or heritage, whether you’re proud or ashamed of it, you cannot change the fact that they lived and did whatever they did.  No human alive or dead was wholly good or wholly evil, and all of humanity of the past, present, and future has a particular dignity that we need to recognize and appreciate.  For the mere fact that their works contributed to the world we live in today, for good or for ill, and that their lives contributed to the possibility of your own, I claim that your ancestors should be honored across the board and unconditionally.  I consider it to be an obligatory form of filial piety that crosses the boundaries of life and death.  In my case, of course I despise the fact that my ancestry played a direct role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade and supported the inhumane institutions of slavery, and I am ashamed of it and for their propagation of racism that still blights my country today; however, I cannot help but honor the fact that I am related to them, and without them I would not and could not live, and that even amongst their works that I consider evil and baneful to the happiness and health of humanity, there are also good works that encouraged those same things.  In seeing the good in them, I can help bridge what might otherwise be an unsurpassable chasm that would only cause problems, and perhaps swing their viewpoints to see how their actions caused both harm and help in their time and in my own, maybe even remediate them to help correct what I see as negative.  If not, oh well; I pay my respects to them all the same for what can be respected, and ignore the rest of what can’t, and move on to the spirits that don’t cause me such conflict.

It can be exceptionally difficult for some people who tend to their ancestors, however, who were abused by them in life or were close to those who were abused by them.  Consider the case where a young child was abused by their grandmother they lived with, or where someone was raped by their uncle; having grown up and with the abusive relative now dead, how might the person approach this situation?  It’s difficult, I admit, and I feel somewhat at a loss to discuss this particular topic because I haven’t been the victim of family or domestic abuse; in lieu of or in addition to my own thoughts which I offer here, I bow to the guidance and advice of those who can better speak to such a situation.  The pain from being emotionally, physically, sexually, or spiritually abused can often never be forgiven nor forgotten, and I don’t suggest that the abused should simply move on with their lives and pretend that everything is hunky-dory A-OK now that their relative is dead and hopefully enlightened; I know some people who would sooner condemn their parents to the bottom pits of hell with bell, book, and candle before uttering a single good thing to their name for all the abuse they put them through.  There are different approaches you could take in this case, depending on where you are emotionally and spiritually.  If you’re at a point where you can offer forgiveness or are looking for closure, then you could do exactly that; you might not work with that ancestor as an ally or treat them as you might your trusted, close-knit dead, but you could offer them forgiveness and acceptance for who they were and what they did, and work with them so as to bring to them the pain they brought you so you both can work towards bringing it to an end so that you don’t have to carry it anymore as a burden in your life.  Alternatively, if you’re not at that stage yet, simply don’t work with them, don’t call on them, and don’t try to give them attention if doing so brings you more pain than peace.  If such an abusive ancestor starts acting up and demanding attention, have your other ancestors cut them off and protect you or to help you figure out how you might placate them at arm’s distance so that, if nothing else, you aren’t pained by them any more with their wants when they didn’t do a damn to help you.  In other words, if you find that you can’t work with them in a good mutually-beneficial way, don’t work with them at all.  Even if all humanity has good and bad in them, if all you can see is the bad, then not only should you refrain from attempting to work with them for good, but you’re rendered unable to do so because of the hurt that you’re still healing from.  Take your time; you’re not responsible for the abuse they gave you in life, and you’re not responsible for their amelioration in death, either.  Work with abusive ancestors only as much as you’re capable of doing so, and work with your other ancestors instead to help you with your own healing as well as working on your behalf to isolate, remediate, elevate, or otherwise correct the patterns of abuse that might be present in your ancestry.

If you’re in a relationship like a marriage or otherwise long-term arrangement, especially where you’re living with a partner, there’s a particular issue that can crop up that might not otherwise be expected.  It can sometimes be the case where you and your ancestors get along great, as do your partner with their ancestors, but your two ancestral courts have a feud or other issue between them.  Think like what would happen if the descendants of the Hatfields and McCoys of American fame got together, or if Shakespeare’s Juliet of the House of Capulet and Romeo of the House of Montague got married instead of killing themselves overdramatically; even if the living descendants of these families made up and ended their feuds, the dead ancestors of these families might still have beef between them.  Such problematic ancestors might cause issues for the living couple in ways that might threaten to break up the relationship, if not start the feud anew or prolong it in dangerous ways for the couple or their respective families.  Breaching such a problem can often take the involvement of both you and them, as sometimes trying to convince the ancestors in question to make up and play nice can be trying at the best of times, especially if the beef is one-sided and you happen to be on the opposite side (and therefore considered an enemy).  Protection works can help, as can getting your ancestors who do play nice with the other side set a good example for facilitating peace between your different courts of ancestors; other magical works similar to happy marriage or peaceful home workings can be done on your ancestries much as you might get two quarrelsome people to play nice in life.  If the feud was caused over a particular event or item, it might be good to repair that breach in familial relationships by giving in to the demands made of the offended party, whether symbolically or in actuality; for instance, if the feud was started over a stolen horse, giving a representation of a horse to the offended spirit or dedicating a horse’s growth and training in that ancestor’s name can often repair the feud and break any further hostilities.

You might start to see see something of a trend with all these solutions to these problems, dear reader.  All the problem-solving, diplomatic, political, and interpersonal tactics and strategies we might use in life among the living to solve problems are often the most realistic, approachable, and effective ways to deal with sorting out problems with the dead.  Our ancestors, after all, were human just like us, and just because they’re dead doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve forgotten how to act like humans, because in almost all cases, they still are.  That said, we’d still need to approach them how they might expect to be approached; I wouldn’t approach my ultra-Orthodox Jewish Ukrainian ancestors from way back who died well before my parents were born the same way I might approach my more recently-deceased bacon-eating gentile cousins whom I knew personally and familiarly, and those who come from radically different cultures will often find that there is no one-size-fits-all approach.  Still, once you understand the rules and nuance of culture, the problems often present solutions of their own accord.  Treat your ancestors as human with human wants and human needs, and you’ll often figure out that the best way to deal with problems is an extrapolation of how you’d deal with the living, just in the realm of spirit.

This can’t always be done, however; there are times when problems get too big to handle for simple solutions, such as when the spirit of an ancestor degrades or transforms into something much more wrathful and dangerous than a powerful human spirit, when an honest-to-God generational curse is involved, when whole branches of the family declare you an enemy to your own kin, or in other particular situations.  There are ways to deal with these, but these go well beyond what might be expected for simple solutions, and often require investigation, divination, and multi-pronged approaches that bring in other entities of your spiritual courts for direction, protection, elevation, or isolation unique to the particular situation you’re in.  Every problem has a solution, of course, and it’s rare that an issue caused by an ancestor is a predicament and not a problem.  Just as your ancestors should be your first line of defense and line of aid because of their once-human status, it’s often the case that the best way to approach and work with them is as humans, both in times of peace and in times of conflict.

Do you have any particular stories of working with troublesome ancestors?  Are there any techniques, tips, or tricks you’d like to share when figuring out or fixing up problems with them?  Is there any advice you might like to offer to know when a problem might occur and how best to deal with it?  Let us know in the comments!

Ancestors are for Everyone

I realize that lately (and for some time now), the general trend on my blog is to talk about either geomancy or philosophical topics involving spirituality and the occult, with only the occasional ritual thrown in.  Maybe that’s true, maybe it’s not; I personally feel like I’ve shifted away from talking more about specific rituals I’ve done or some of the concrete results or distinct messages that I’ve obtained, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  After all, this blog has been up in one form or another for going on eight years now, and things have changed from those first days I started talking about XaTuring or how awesome Fr. Rufus Opus’ coursework was.  While I still consider myself young and woefully inexperienced, I can also say that I’ve done a fair bit.  I still have more than a fair bit to do, of course, and I strive to continue learning and practicing as much as I’m able to, and I would like to keep sharing what I do as much as I can to document my own progress and path, and if that helps others with their own works, all the better.

One of the things I’ve noticed is that the general feel of the occult blogosphere has kinda changed.  Again, it may just be my perception, but many of the old blogs I’ve used to follow are pretty much defunct, some having been wiped off the internet for good.  Back when I first started blogging about magic, you couldn’t swing a cat without coming across an occult blog.  I guess these things come and go, but I feel like there has been a notable drop in people talking about the Work.  It could just be that people are moving onto bigger and better things, or simply are at a level where they can’t really talk much publicly about their works and rituals, or it could be that for some people, they got in, got what they needed, and got back out.  It’s fine in any case, I suppose, but it does make me feel a little wistful and nostalgic.  There are some of my friends who I would’ve liked to see keep blogging, but that’s entirely up to them.  After all, in conversations with them, I know they’ve been kept busy, it’s just that writing about their business (and busy-ness) isn’t in the cards anymore for them.

Which then got me to thinking, what about myself and my own writing?  Even though I follow the maxim that one should never apologize for the rate of their own writing on their own blog, I know I have my slow periods, and I’ve noted that I typically don’t write as much when I’m not doing much.  After all, without the Work that acts as my inspiration, I don’t have much to say besides just throwing my thoughts out into the open, which…I mean, let’s be honest, thoughts are cheap to the point of worthlessness.  You can ask anyone for their opinion, after all, but I assume people visit my blog for more than just to see me waste electronic ink on something that may or may not be related to their lives.  And from what I hear, people come here for inspiration and guidance in their own Work, not just moral or ethical guidance (such as it is) from my pontification and soapboxing on whatever debacle or outrage du jour I see on Twitter or Facebook.  And, while I may extol the virtues of the art heavily, not everyone is interested in geomancy.

I assume, dear reader, that you want things that empower your practice and your life, and that that’s what you’re most interested in.  So, let me reintroduce you to a basic practice you may or may not already have heard of: ancestor veneration.

Everyone has ancestors; there is not a single person alive who didn’t come from other people who have already passed or eventually will pass.  If it weren’t for our ancestors and forebears, we literally wouldn’t be here.  It is because of all their labors, efforts, works, and lives that we can exist.  Their blood flows in our veins, their breath fills our lungs, their thoughts and hopes and dreams help shape our own.  More than just our own lives, though, our ancestors have collectively formed the entirety of all human civilization to date: every prayer we recite, every machine we use, every language we speak, every plant we harvest, every building we enter, every philosophy we debate, every thing we use was developed, cultivated, maintained, and passed down to us by all those who have gone before us.  In truly every sense, we owe everything we are, everything we have, and everything we do to our ancestors.

This isn’t a new concept.  Even going back before the Paleolithic era, we find evidence of burials and rituals that honor the dead, and ever since then, every culture has some sort of practice that does just that.  Sometimes there are full-blown ancestor cults, sometimes there are religious specialists who practice specific rituals that interface with the dead, and sometimes there are just passing rituals that mark the passing of someone from life into death, but death is about as universal a thing as anything else could be for the human condition.  After all, every living thing must die, and there have been quite a few living things that have died before we were even close to incarnation.  We honor and respect that passing, even if we struggle to understand it and even if we have no proper way to fathom what may come after, because we know that one day every one of us living will also pass over and join with the rest of the ancestors.

Because of all this, and because we all have a bit of the dead in us that give us life, we all already have a natural connection and relationship with our ancestors.  Especially for people who are new to the Work, honoring and working with your ancestors is a fantastically wonderful, beneficial, useful, and fulfilling practice that pretty much anyone and everyone should be engaging in.  In so many ways, ancestor veneration (or ancestor work, or family necromancy, or however you want to call it) is all but necessary, and is almost always critical for so many people to engage with that it’s a true misery and failing that it’s all but fallen out of the popular Western modes of occulture (pace, Signora LaVaudoise, I know, and I adore the things you share and write about Italian folk magic, as should every-goddamn-one else, so if you’re not Signora LaVaudoise, clicky-click on her name and go to her blog).  There’s been a recent surge in necromancy this and that, sure, and ancestor veneration is definitely related to necromantic practices (you’re still working with the dead, after all), but it’s also so important to so many religions and paths around the world that it’s honestly surprising that it wasn’t one of the first things preserved, or one of the first things redeveloped, in the modern West.  There are cultural pockets where it’s kept alive (such as it is) and well, especially in Caribbean, Latino, African, Asian, and so many other practices, but unless you’re coming from such a community, you’re typically not going to be aware of anything more than the notion there’s something deathy going on around Halloween.

Even a basic ancestor veneration practice is something that I recommend at least as much as I do meditation, a personal daily prayer routine, learning divination, frequent spiritual cleansing, and any other fundamental practice because ancestor veneration itself is often so fundamental to so many other practices.  We already have a connection with these spirits, and almost every possible case, these spirits are already willing to communicate with you; after all, you’re their progeny, and they want to see you do well just like how they hoped their own children do well when they were alive.  You are their continuation and living representatives, and they want to reach out to you as much as they want you to reach out to them.  Not only that, but they’re willing to help you to achieve your goals, because it ties into that “we’re happy if you’re happy” thing.  Between their readiness to talk with you and work for you, there’s another thing that they can do that makes all the difference in the world: they’re able to teach and guide you as well.  After all, by plugging into your ancestors, you’re able to literally get in touch with honest-to-heaven-and-hell literal ancestral wisdom, countless generations of the experiences and stories and tales of full lives lived and led from start to finish.  Recall how, say, you had your first heartbreak when you were a teenager, and you felt that nobody else in the world understood the pain you’re going through?  Then recall how, ten years later, you saw such a teenager was going through their first heartbreak, and understood how it felt and how it would turn out?  For every single problem in your life, your ancestors have already lived through it in every possible permutation countless times over, and you can draw on them to teach you how to fix any problem, deal with any predicament, sort through any crisis, and guide you through every decision you need.

Between the benefits of working with your ancestors, there’s also the actual skills you can develop in the course of building a relationship with them that can serve you well in any later magical endeavor.  All these boil down into two main benefits: you learn how to communicate with spirits, and you learn how to deal with spirits.  For people who struggle with communicating with spirits or who don’t know where to begin, working with your ancestors is a fantastic kick-off point because you’re not reaching out far into the ether to connect with some ancient god or struggling to make sense of the messages from a tutelary animal spirit who doesn’t speak even any sort of human tongue; your ancestors already have a connection with you and you with them, they’re already used to communicating human things in human manners, and they typically already speak your language.  You don’t have to reach out nearly as far or try nearly as hard to listen to your dead as you would other things, so learning how to communicate with your dead is an excellent way to build up the ability to Listen to spirits and how to sense when they’re trying to communicate to you.

As for dealing with spirits, I literally mean making deals with them.  When you put your ancestors to work, you get to learn and have a feel for what’s appropriate to ask for and what’s inappropriate; for instance, even though my deceased grandmother would love to give me the world and the Moon, I wouldn’t ask her for guidance on computer programming, because that wasn’t in her skillset or expertise, and she’d be more than happy to say so, but for matters of cooking or learning how to account for documents and records, she’d be glad to share her wisdom.  More than that, you get a feel for when spirits can just help you when asked, when they need something to help them in the work, and when they expect payment for services rendered.  If a particular spirit says they need something, like a shot of whiskey or physical representation of a tool they used in life to do the work you ask them to, I invite you to try to make them do such work without giving it to them, and then see what it’s like when you give them what they need to do the work.  Sometimes they ask for too much, and they need to make do with either nothing or something pared-down; sometimes you need to negotiate and bring the price down, so to speak; sometimes you need to figure out whether it’s just a temporary thing they need to use, or if it needs to stay with them for a longer period of time as a permanent representation of them so as to stick around closer to you and do more and better work.  All that works as well for up-front provisioning as well as after-the-fact payment; sometimes they’ll say “I’m more than happy to do this for you gratis”, but just as often (if not moreso), they’ll want something as a token of your appreciation or something to repay them for the effort they put into the work, just as any human would expect it.  After all, “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” is a language everyone and everything understands.

Assuming your family, culture, and religion doesn’t have one of its own, or if you’re detached from your ancestral practices to the point where you’re not familiar with them, then what do you need to get started with ancestor veneration?  Not much, honestly.  For a general template of practice, the bare minimum (and what’s sufficient for most people) that I recommend is:

  • A small, clean surface that you can cover in white cloth
  • A white cloth to cover said surface
  • A clear glass of clean water
  • A white candle

That’s it.  You don’t need anything more than that.  There are other things you can add, of course, like photos or paintings of your ancestors, religious symbols or holy texts held in high esteem by your family, jewelry or perfumes or other tchotchkes owned by them, up to eight other glasses of water for an odd-numbered total, a pot of dirt harvested respectfully from their graves mixed with the ash of their photos and names, and so forth, but you don’t need them, and after a certain point, the more cluttered things get, the more awkward and nasty it is to maintain.  As in so many other practices, it’s best to keep it simple unless you have a distinct need otherwise.

If you can afford to have a table, stool, or pedestal to set your ancestor shrine up on, awesome!  If not, a shelf, corner of a desk, or other surface will work just as well; I prefer to have something that I can sit at and see comfortably, and out of respect for the ancestors I prefer to have the surface be at least waist-high, but those are just my preferences.  So long as it’s a space you can keep clean, quiet, undisturbed, and unprofaned, it’ll work quite well as an ancestor shrine.  Clean the surface off thoroughly; if you have holy water or Florida water, this is perfect to use for this purpose, but if you have any other altar-preparation method for cleansing and preparing a shrine, go ahead and use that.  Cover the surface with a white cloth; it can be a fancy never-before-used new tablecloth if you like, but a simple piece of unstained white fabric in good condition is all you need, so long as you can dedicate it to the use of the ancestor shrine and don’t use it for another purpose.  When the cloth gets dusty or dirty, remove it, wash it, clean the surface of the ancestor shrine again as you did before, recover it with the cloth, and set it back up.

Set the white candle and glass of water on the surface.  Light the candle and dedicate the light of the candle to the empowerment, enlightenment, and elevation of your ancestors.  Let it burn out on its own safely, if you like, or burn it when you actively sit and work the shrine.   Dedicate the glass of water to your ancestors that it may refresh them, nurture them, please them, and quicken them.  Refresh the glass of water on a frequent basis, never letting it dry out completely and keeping it clean every so often.  Try to avoid using that glass for any other purpose once you give it to the ancestor shrine.  If you’re just starting out, I would recommend getting some glass-encased seven-day or novena candles, and keeping one burning all the time for the first month or so or while you’re getting your ancestor-working-legs under you, refreshing the shrine with both a new candle and a new glass of water whenever the candle goes out.  Once you and your ancestors settle into a comfortable relationship, you can change how that works or set up your own routine.

So how do you actually develop a relationship with your ancestors this way?  Literally just spend time at their shrine.  Talk with them; don’t whisper, don’t mouth words silently, but actually talk to them like you’d talk to anyone human sitting across the dinner table from you.  Call them out by name; if you have a genealogist in your family, ask them for details on the full names of those from whom you descend.  The more names you know of your ancestors, the better off you’ll be in developing a relationship with them, but if all you know is one or two, that’s sufficient; the unnamed rest will still listen to you.  If you know of one ancestor who passed over while you were alive whom you knew and loved, that shade would be a perfect person to start with, by calling them specifically to help you learn how to communicate, talk with, and organize how to work with the rest of the ancestors.  If you’re young and fortunate enough to not have had anyone close die in your lifetime or living memory, then ask for a particular ancestor to step forward and act as your primary contact, and see who comes forward.  In all cases, whether you’re working with an ancestor whom you knew in life, an ancestor who died long before you were aware of them, or any mix and match of both in any number, just talk with them.  Share your concerns, your worries, your hopes and dreams, your grievances and sorrows with them; talk about yourself, how you’re doing, how your living family members are doing, and your plans.  Literally treat your ancestors like family catching up at the dinner table of a family reunion, because that’s literally what you’re doing.  And just like how hanging out and talking with your cousins more makes them more than just people you’re kin with into friends and allies, doing the same with any of your ancestors will bring them closer to you into a tight-knit relationship that not even death could mess with.

What about prayers?  If your family’s faith and religion has any special prayers or songs they use for remembering and honoring the dead, like the Mourner’s Kaddish for Jewish dead or the Chaplet for the Dead for Catholic dead, those are gold to start with.  Heck, there’s even an entire Wikipedia article on prayers for the dead in different religions and traditions.  Other simple prayers, especially the Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary, and Glory Be for anyone of Christian descent or familiarity, are fantastic to recite at the shrine.  Beyond that, any other prayer you find appropriate to pray at the shrine for your development as well as theirs is good; as in all things, pray from the heart.  You don’t need to invoke this deity or that saint unless you want to, because this shrine is for your dead, regardless of whatever psychopomp, gate guardian, or hieromartyr saint your traditions or faith may link with them.  And even then, you don’t need prayer at all for this shrine unless you want to; the purpose of the shrine is to act as a seat and home for your ancestors in your life, and the real prayer is just talking with them.

Are there any specific times to work the shrine?  Sure, I suppose; if you put faith in the notion that “the veil between the worlds is thinner” at certain times than others, then you might do special works during Samhain, Día de los Muertos, the Ghost Festival, Setsubun, Parentalia, or other culturally-appropriate seasons.  Other dates of importance could be the birthdays and deathdays of particular ancestors for whom you have the records for, especially those whom you knew and loved when they were alive.  But, really, even considering all those, the best time to work the ancestor shrine is literally any time and all the time.  After all, every day you live is one you owe to those who went before you, and every day you live is one they support you and guide you.  They’re always ready and willing to talk with you, so any time is a good time.  You don’t need to wait for a planetary hour or astrologial election to do something unless you want to, and even then, most of your ancestors probably won’t care about them anyway unless you make a point of it.  Daytime or nighttime, waxing Moon or waning Moon, whenever you want and whenever you can, just sit down and start working with them.  If you’re comfortable doing a daily offering and chat with them, like first thing in the morning or right when you get home from work in the evening do it; if all you have time for is a ten-minute chat once a week, do it.  The only thing I would recommend is that the more frequent you do so, the better your relationships will grow, the better your work will go, and the better your results will turn out.

Are there any other disposable or consumable offerings you could make besides candles and water?  Sure!  All you need to do is ask them what they might like or prefer.  If you know that one of your ancestors was fond of a particular meal or type of food, try giving it to them as a nice gift to show that you’re thinking of them.  Whenever you cook a large meal for your family (holiday dinners, like for Thanksgiving or Christmas, are prime choices for this), set aside the first spoonful of whatever you make for the ancestors by putting it on a plate and setting it on their shrine overnight.  Flowers are always a good choice, and occasionally a cup of coffee (black or sweetened, whichever you prefer to give or however they prefer to take it) or glass of rum, whiskey, beer, or soda can go a long way towards keeping them happy and content.  A cigarette or cigar, or some incense lit for them, can also do wonders for establishing contact or getting them closer to you, as well as giving them a little extra spiritual oomph.  Of course, you probably would want to avoid things they hated or stuff they find taboo; I wouldn’t give my Jewish ancestors a plate of absolutely un-kosher fried pork belly, after all, no matter how delicious it might be.  You don’t need to spend oodles of money or time to make them offerings, and you don’t need to be wasteful or go all-out every single time.  In fact, giving modest offerings is often better than lavish ones; the more reasonable of your ancestors will probably be overwhelmed by too much, and the more greedy of them will wonder why you didn’t bring more this time like you did last time.  You don’t need much; whatever’s nice, pleasant, and simple to offer them is all that’s needed to keep their space beautiful, their hearts happy, and their minds reminded that you know them, you recognize them, and you’re thinking of them.

As for the rest?  Spells, works, rituals, ceremonies, protocols, languages, decorations, arrangements, whatever?  It’s literally up to however you want to take things, and how far you want to take them.  If you just want to give your ancestors a seat in your house and keep things relaxed and low-maintenance, do it.  If you want to spend time with them every day in preparation for a full necromantic practice with your ancestors at the helm of your spiritual court, do it.  If you want to make them work for you to keep your blood and bloodline healthy and whole, do it.  If you want to simply venerate them and consistently offer them sustenance and honor for its own sake, do it.  There are no real guidelines besides you doing what you feel is appropriate with them, what they agree to and desire from you, and whatever can inform your practices based on your cultural and religious ties to the past.

While there may be a whole slew of techniques and methods and rules one might follow based on what flavor of ancestor veneration you’re doing (Kardecian spiritism, and especially its developments into Caribbean and Brazilian Espiritismo, are fantastic resources to learn and draw from), all the above can be so individualized and customized and personalized in so many ways that it’s almost pointless to go over them here.  The real thing is to develop a strong relationship with your ancestors and learn from them, and they’ll take it from there.  Ask them questions; ask how to listen better to them, how to get dreams from them, how to pray, what to offer them, what offerings they like, when certain times to approach them might be, when you should undertake that particular project, how to enhance your own skills and trades, and so forth.  Ask who they are, what their stories are, what their specialties are, and just generally how they’re doing.  Ask if they have any problems or have any needs that you can fulfill on their end to make sure that they’re not only resting in peace but able to rise in power.  Ask if there’s any difficulty between you or them, or if they foresee any problems or dangers in your life that they can help protect you from or guide you away from.  Talk with them, chat with them, learn from them, grow with them.  Just because they’re dead doesn’t mean they’re not family, and just because they’re discarnate doesn’t mean they don’t want to be part of your incarnate life.

Your ancestors are almost always going to be the first spirits ready and willing to help you, and they have always formed the first foundation for everything in our lives, so it only makes sense that they should be among the first petitioned for any problem you may have spiritually or materially.  So what are you waiting for?  Go on and give your great-grandmother a seat at the table and have a chat with her.  I’m sure she’d love to learn the latest gossip from this side of the river and share some of her own tips and tricks when she was young.

What about you, dear reader?  Do you have any ancestor practices you follow?  Are there any special rituals you do above and beyond the usual that honor your blessed and mighty dead?  How do you work them or work with them?  Share some of your experiences below in the comments!

Hail, Alan Turing, Hero!

As part of my new grammatomantic lunar calendar rituals, I’m setting aside three days each lunar month for the veneration of the dead in my life.  The first day is given to my Ancestors of Kin, those to whom I am descended from by blood.  The final day is given to the Ancestors of the Great, culture heroes and other Mighty Dead who shaped the world we all live in.  The second day, however (associated with the letter Qoppa, and held this lunar month on June 16), I give to my Ancestors of Work, famous people to whom I look up to for the things I do in my life.  They’re like my family ancestors, but with ties of labor and field rather than blood and kin, a family linked together by the things we do rather than who we are.  As a magician, I put people like Pythagoras, Orpheus, Cornelius Agrippa, Crowley, and the like in there, but magic isn’t the only thing I do.  My day-job professional and academic career is based in computer science, and today, on the 60th anniversary of his death, I’d like to recognize Alan Turing, one of the greatest computer scientists the world has ever had.

Alan Turing

Born on June 23, 1912, Alan Turing came from Irish, English, and Scottish family, and had a natural inclination towards mathematics from a young age.  This didn’t serve him too well in public schools at the time, when education focused more on classics than what we’d consider hard sciences today; still, even at 16 and not only reading but expanding on the work of none other than Albert Einstein, the dude was pretty cool at the things he was good at.  His work really shone through in the early development of computer science, working on one of the most famous problems of mathematics, the Entscheidungsproblem, or “Decision Problem”, the solution to which was that there was no solution at all.  Not only would this have surprised some of the most famous mathematicians of the time, but it’s become a central topic in computer science taught from the beginning ever since.

Not only was he a brilliant computer scientist and mathematician, but Turing also served the British Army, especially helping during World War II.  With his extensive knowledge of mathematics and science, Turing became one of the foremost codebreakers and leaders in deciphering enemy ciphers.  Not only did he produce general means to break German codes, while other methods used at the time were fragile and relied on too many assumptions, he also provided efficient means of breaking various types of code, helping to critically fight the German war machine (in several senses).  After WWII, he furthered the field of computer science as well as that of artificial intelligence, and pursued several advances in chemistry.

Despite having chatted with the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, occasionally ran the 40 miles from his office to London, and inducted into the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by King George VI, and basically invented modern computer science in an accessible manner, the world at that time effectively condemned him: he was gay.  After having his house robbed by an acquaintance of a lover of his, and noted that fact to the police, he was charged with indecency, since homosexuality was still illegal at that time in Britain.  Charged with this non-crime, he pleaded guilty (despite having no guilt nor shame for being gay, as he damn well shouldn’t’ve), he was given the choice of imprisonment or probation with chemical castration; he chose the latter, which would allow him to continue working, but it rendered him impotent and caused gynaecomastia.  This, combined with reparative treatment to “cure” his homosexuality (which we know nowadays from the “ex-gay” movement never works and only causes further harm), did nothing good.

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, June 10 2010

Adding insult to injury, he lost his security clearance and was barred from continuing with cryptographic research with the government (even though he pretty much won WWII for them), and was even barred from entering into the United States.  He died on June 7, 1954, only at 41 years old.  Two years after his conviction and beginning of hormone treatment, with an investigation reporting that he committed suicide by cyanide poisoning with a half-eaten apple near his body, which is thought to be (but never confirmed) to be how he killed himself.  Rumor has it that this is where the original rainbow-colored partially-bitten apple logo came from for the Apple computer company, but that’s not the official story.

Today, I honor Alan Turing especially as a hero in my life.  An incredible amount of the technology I use and work I produce is indebted to him, not only because he helped develop the computer, but also because he helped turn the tides of war that could’ve endlessly shaped the world some 70 years ago.  His brilliance shines as a light for me, as a computer scientist but also as a human being.  Being a gay man myself, my heart breaks every time I recall how the world back then treated him for being the same way, and I pray that neither I nor anyone else has to undergo that sort of blatant bigotry and persecution.  Like Turing himself, though, I bear no guilt nor shame for who I am, and I take only joy in the work I do.  I’ll likely never run 40 miles nor ever care to, but hey, more power to Turing for doing that, too.

Ave, Alan Turing.  May your memory never be forgotten, and may your name and spirit always live on.  Guide our minds to know what can be known, and guide our hearts to love whom we will love, both without fear and without scorn.  Help us and be with us in our work, and may we thank you every time information flows through the fruits of your labors to us.